archives – How to talk to a family or friend leaving the church

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First, I don’t mean this to be snarky, sarcastic, or hateful. I genuinely want to help people on the TBM side of the equation see what common phrases in the church mean to someone who is doubting/has left the church, and why sometimes very innocent sounding phrases can be terribly offensive.

I mean this to help relationships that any of you may experience in the future. Hopefully none of you will experience it, but statistics say that each of you may encounter this at some point. Regardless, best of luck to you.

(Yes, every one of these has been said to me by a close person, yes a similar list will be posted to /r/exmormon)

I know the church is true”

Why this hurts – The implication with this statement is that all other faiths are not true, including the one the person who you are talking to. It’s immediately comparative, and creates enmity, the definitions of Pride according to Bensen’s 1989 talk on Pride. It lifts you up, by pushing the person you’re talking to down.

The reverse said to a member (So you can see the hurt level created – “I know the church is false”

A better way to say it – “Despite your new beliefs, I am comfortable with mine”. or “I’m happy that you’ve found truth. I feel I have too. I appreciate you sharing with me, and I’d be willing to share more of mine with you if you would like”

“You just wanted to sin!” “Are you guilty of infidelity?” “What are you doing wrong?” etc. etc. etc.

Why this hurts – well, beyond the obvious that you are accusing the person of committing some ghastly deed; it’s an obvious logical fallacy. A person can easily stay a member and sin. We see it all the time, and I’m sure you do to. Therefore, people do not typically leave to sin. Even if someone did leave to sin, as some of the /r/exmo crowd did do, it’s usually very detailed, nuanced and has depth to the reason. This casts it as “black and white” drawing the line appropriately so that the person you’re talking to is the “black” side of the equation. Even if you believe this to be the case, saying it to a person doesn’t help the relationship.

The reverse said to a member – You are just a member of the church because you want to sin (Such as gluttony, a catholic sin, or eating bacon, a jewish sin).

A better way to say it – “Tell me why you left.” or “I understand you probably have reasons for what you did, I don’t want to know the reasons, just know I still care about you”

“Who offended you?”

Why this hurts – The implication is that you left over something trivial. Like spilled milk (or milk strippings) affecting one’s eternal destination. It condenses what is more than likely a very complex/difficult decision into something meaningless very quickly.

The reverse said to a member – “You’re just a member because you were brainwashed” equally reduces the complex nuances as to why one is a member to a simple, trivial statement. “All members are alike” is similar in how it reduces everyone who left to a stereotype.

A better way to say it – “I still love and respect you regardless of belief. Tell me what hurts.”, “I’m sure this journey did not happen over night, tell how you got to this place” both express a willingness to listen to hurt without simplifying the person’s experience.

“People who leave the church can never leave it alone”

Why it hurts – The implications is that one who leaves is affected by the devil, or always obsessed by the church. People who have a genuine interest in the culture or history are grouped together with “Angry Anti’s”, as well as people who are still caught between their spouse and the religion who do get upset regularly are portrayed as though they should “Just leave”, when they continue to talk about the church because it is still prominent in their lives.

Reversed – “People in the church only talk about the church and nothing else. It’s like they are obsessed or something” or “People who stay in the church only do it to save face”. Both of these statements group and stereotype unfairly, as well as remove good reasons that members take action in a similar way to the original statement’s stereotyping and good reason removal.

A better way to say it – “You’re still talking about the church even after you left, what is it about the church that still matters to you”. “People online who continue to attack the church, or talk about it after they left confuse me. Can you explain to me their reasoning for continuing to talk about the faith?”

“People who leave are dark, unfeeling, unselfish, devil-possessed, narcotics users, wife beaters, ugly, etc.”

Why it hurts – Because the statements are designed to castigate humans into a “Them” category that is inferior. Yes, there are leadership quotes to say that these things. Yes you may not be talking to an exmormon. But the person you are talking to might have a husband, father, mother, niece, former-roommate who has left, and calling names at someone’s friend or relation hurts.

Reverse – “Mormons are all dull, the same, bland, stupid, annoying, etc.” Name calling is that on either side.

Say it better – “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” – Thumper’s Mother.

bonus – The above goes for Atheists as well, even if General Authorities do it, it doesn’t make it right or okay to group people together and cast them as inferior.


“I know you know it’s true!”, “You know it’s true, why are you denying it?”

Why it hurts – It immediately brings to mind how wrong we were when we thought we knew the church was true. It forces us to think of how betrayed we feel, the lies we encountered, etc. It quickly makes the conversation “not safe”.

Reverse – “You know that there are problems with the church. You can feel it is false!”

A better way to say it – “Have you ever felt the song of redeeming love? Can you still feel it.” Alma gives a much better way to address this issue that is a lot less condemning. Follow his example.

“Are you gay?!”

Why it hurts – The member has just skipped right past any actual feeling or emotion of the person they are talking to. If the person is gay, they now feel threatened. If not, the ex-member is torn between explaining why “Gay people aren’t bad” and the real reasons they left. In addition it generally feels threatening.

Reverse – Are you in a cult?! Similar shortcircuit of emotional reasoning and threatening felling of conversation is created.

How to say it better – “Tell me your reason for leaving.”

“You have to consider your sources” “The internet is full of lies” “How can you trust such angry people”

Why it hurts – The automatic assumption that the person you are talking to hasn’t verified the source, or thought through what is said is hurtful. In addition though, the exmormon is likely to want to say something about how all the sources the member has been reading are paid by the church. Hugh Nibley, The Maxwell Institute, and General Authorities all have an incentive to twist the truth in favor of the church. FAIRlds have no financial incentive (well, some do), but are not backed by the church in anyway, they have just as much credibility as or, and sometimes much less. Without advanced wikipedia skills, you probably don’t even know who was posting to FAIRlds. The irony of calling out sources, is difficult to reconcile/deal with for members.

In addition calling out Michael Quinn for being gay, or attacking Richard Bushman/the Emma Smith authors when they are very LDS, even when being put through some very trying experiences does not help your case in seeming like you have a well-thought out and reasoned argument.

I’ve had people say this to me when I was quoting Joseph Smith himself. Yes, yes, I considered the source a LOT before quoting him.

The reverse – “Everyone you read is paid off by the organization, consider the source” This one cuts both ways

*A better way to say it” – “Let’s set apart some time to review the materials you’ve been reading/studying/etc. and look at the sources to see if they are valid”. Or, “Please tell me about the source of where you heard this.” Or, if you feel threatened, “I’m not sure I want to discuss this now.” Asking to not talk about a troubling item is not a bad thing, but throwing some mud at a person’s time and efforts in order to not talk about something will damage a relationship.

“We should not criticize our leaders, even if that criticism is true”

Why it hurts – Every organization has mistakes, misdeeds and problems. Even the church. In fact, if one points out any errors made, many people say “Well, he was just acting as a man”. In fact, this statement is a * criticism*. Regardless, criticism is an important tool for an organization to self-correct. Without any criticism organizations make worse and worse mistakes. Being able to see the disaster before it happens, and not be able to say anything is hard for any person. Shutting that person up will not help a relationship.

Reverse – “You should not criticizing people who left the church, even if the criticism is true”. You see how difficult that standard is to maintain, and how ANY system would be able to look good if it followed this advice. “You should not criticize Walmart, even if that criticism is true”.

A better way to say it – “Please don’t use ad hominem attacks against leaders. I honor and respect these men still.” “It sounds to me like you’re just making a personal attack, if that’s not your intent, please explain it to me.”

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Last edited by Mithryn on June 19, 2015 at 7:23 pm

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